One by one, doors are closing on the 1200 block of West University Avenue in Gainesville.
Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria closed in November, the former Liv+ Leasing Lounge relocated in September, and the space at 1227 W. University Ave. is empty.
At a “first step” development review meeting last month, city officials discussed a proposed mid-rise apartment and retail project between that space and 1209 W. University Ave.
The new complex would have two stories of retail space, three for parking and four for a total of 149 apartment units, and a common pool area. The parking space would include some for bicycles and scooters; the retail area would include a coffee bar open to the public.
A groundbreaking could happen in early 2022, and the complex would open in July 2023, according to David Kanne, president of Lincoln Ventures, its Austin, Texas-based developer.
Ten percent of the apartment units would be rented at affordable housing rates, Kanne said. His company helped create affordable housing in Austin and wants do so in Gainesville, he said.
Kanne said the project requires flexible development standards and presents some potential site challenges, including locating essential utility and stormwater infrastructure to support the redevelopment. However, those challenges were not expected to delay the project, he said.
Juan Castillo, a planner with the Gainesville department of sustainable development, said there have been similar ideas for the block over the years, but none have reached the application stage.
Gainesville’s master plan states that it has housing as a goal to “encourage a sufficient supply of affordable rental housing for all income groups.”
Castillo said the zoning for the area is tailored to support higher density residential, commercial and office development in close proximity to the University of Florida and downtown. Two other mixed-use projects are under construction in the area, one at West University Avenue and Southwest 10th Street, the other at Northwest 13th Street and Third Avenue.
“The city in general wants to create a more urban city where services are available to neighbors within walking distance,” Castillo said.
Amanda Nazaro, 35, hopes that the new development will take some time. She owns Golden Gator Spray Tanning, a customized airbrush tanning salon located at 1219 W. University Ave. She has been in business since 2007, the same year she graduated from UF.
“I can’t say that I am the biggest fan of the idea of my small business being knocked down and a large high rise going up,” said Nazaro, whose business has seen a positive start to 2021 after a rare down year in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Nazaro said too many nearby businesses have closed recently, including Leonardo’s, Felipe’s and The Bistro.
“I hope it does not go through,” she said. “I think that these small businesses are some of the best parts of Gainesville. They are the uniqueness of what we have to offer.”
Nazaro said she assumes that the new complex would have much higher rents – and that as a result she would most likely have to close her tanning business.
“To relocate or try to move into these high rises, the rent is almost quadruple what I’m paying,” she said. “For a small business, I can’t afford that.”
As someone who has been in Gainesville for a long time, she acknowledges that the city’s growth seems inevitable, but she is also sad that she could lose her business.
“It is very emotional that this could be the end of the Golden Gator,” she said. “Unfortunately, what I have to say is probably not going to matter. I think what is done is done.”
The Mystic Hookah Café is next door to Golden Gator and co-owned by Romana Angad and her husband. Located in a building that was once a UF fraternity house, Angad said they have been in the space for 10 years, serving coffee, tea, soft drinks and hookah, which is a flavored tobacco.
Angad said her business has been struggling since reopening in June, after closing for two months because of the pandemic. While she can see the development around her, she said many of the new buildings have empty storefronts.
“What do you do? Your hands are tied behind you,” Angad said. “There’s nothing you can do but watch it happen.”
The pandemic kept Mystic Hookah Café from taking on any employees.
“One of the reasons why we are still there is because we work by ourselves,” she said.
Angad has a message for the project developers: “Work with the small businesses. Both companies should work something out where both can benefit and not just them.”
Castillo replied on behalf of the city: “To my knowledge, we have not received any communication from these businesses regarding the development.”
Branden Pearson, 22, of Cape Coral, a UF senior majoring in international business, said he would visit Felipe’s about once per month because he preferred it over Moe’s and Tijuana Flats. While he supports having more apartments nearby, Pearson said he worries about the downside.
“It is a loss to campus culture because we are losing places students often go to,” he said. “I would like to see local restaurants remain in Gainesville.”
Preslie Price, 19, of Tampa, a UF freshman majoring in English and psychology, said she is disappointed that new developments are taking over local staples like Felipe’s.
“I feel like there are a ton of apartment options that are all relatively the same price right around each other,” Price said. “I feel like if they’re making a cheaper option, it’s good, but if not then it’s just another apartment in a sea of them.”
Toni Mills, 44, who has worked for 10 years just down the street at Bagels and Noodles, agreed.
“I moved to Gainesville to get away from these big cities,” Mills said. “They are basically trying to make Gainesville into the new Miami. I personally don’t support it.”
Not everyone opposes having more housing development. The new complex would be across the street from The Hub on Campus Gainesville-University, another retail and apartment property.
Erin Perez, senior vice president of management at Core Spaces, The Hub’s management company, said by email that having new neighbors is “a positive sign of growth in our community.”
Turista Fugate, 32, a bartender at Mother’s Pub and Grill, also supports the proposed complex.
“We always want more business,” Fugate said. “As long as it brings that, I am sure it will be a good thing.”